28/10/2015 20:00 GMT

Government Ministers Concede Public Services Are 'Not Good Enough' In Helping Transgender People

Universities must do more and adopt a "zero tolerance" approach to bullying of transgender people, a Government minister has said as the shortcomings in the NHS, Home Office and education system over supporting the trans community were exposed at a Parliamentary inquiry.

MPs on the newly-formed Women and Equalities Committee today grilled five ministers during a key session in the first ever Commons investigation into how fairly trans people are treated, which prompted a running commentary on social media.

Issues raised, based on written and oral evidence submitted by individuals and pressure groups, included under-reporting of "hate" crimes, lengthy waiting lists for treatment and out-dated laws.

Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan, also the Minister for Women and Equalities, rejected the charge that the Government was "complacent", but ministers before the committee signalled "concern" and that it is "not good enough" in areas from the latest medical guidance to declaring gender on British passports.


Nicky Morgan, also the Minister for Women and Equalities, said: "There is no complacency among any of the ministers before this committee."

Most striking were the comments by Business Minister Nick Boles, who said a National Union of Students study showing one-third of transgender university students had faced bullying was "particularly shocking".

He told the MPs: "You would rather hope, maybe this is naive of me, that a younger age group was more aware, more open-minded. That is very troubling."

Mr Boles said while "guidance, charters, goals and concordats are important, and laws are even more important", more crucial still was to "challenge bad behaviour" and implement a "zero tolerance regime".

"I am very happy to talk to Universities Ministers Jo Johnson about, frankly, university vice-chancellors taking this seriously and not 'oh well, I've got my charter, I've got my guidance'.

"It's not like it's something new for them. On homophobia and racism, by no means perfect, great strides have been made. This isn't so different. These are crimes and should be rooted out."

On the NHS, committee chairwoman and Conservative MP Maria Miller questioned why NHS clinical guidance suggests people in transition "live like a woman or live like a man" before they can change identity, and Labour MP Jess Phillips argued the notion people had to "tick the box" first was wrong.

"Put like that it gives us cause for concern," responded Health Minister Jane Ellison, but said the NHS was changing. "Clinical understanding is rarely frozen in time, and this one in particular isn't. For a lot of people this is a new speciality. For the next few years you will see an evolution."

When questioned why one transgender group described NHS gender identity clinics as "routinely rubbish", Ms Ellison: "The NHS is on a journey here. There is a real openness to improvement, and acceptance that current services are not good enough. And there are plans in place to improve that."

Ben Howlett, a Tory MP on the committee, said people who consider themselves non-binary - namely that they are not exclusively male or female - or to have no gender have to "lie" by stating they are male or female on passports.

Ms Miller said countries including Australia have no gender determination on passports, adding: "Why do you need to have the gender on there at all?"

In response, Home Office Minister Karen Bradley said: "A passport is a travel document, it is not like a birth certificate or other forms of identity.

"Gender is important in terms of identification, but we are looking very carefully at other countries that have done this. We are open to listening."

Pointing to alarming rates of suicide among transgender people, Ms Miller said that "getting this right matters", adding: "I sense a little complacency coming through, I hope I'm wrong."

Ms Morgan responded: "I think you are completely wrong, if I may be so bold. You can't be neutral about these things. But if we are going to change the law, that doesn't change overnight. But there is no complacency among any of the ministers before this committee."